Malaysia needs to rethink attitudes to ASEAN players

John Duerden John Duerden

Chan Vathanaka and Evan Dimas are good enough for Malaysia, so perhaps the problem lies elsewhere.

Malaysian football is nothing if not predictable. A few weeks after the season starts then there will be a coach or two ‘rested’ (though not many return after recharging their batteries) then by the time May comes around, foreign players are advised to have their bags permanently packed like a pregnant woman with an approaching due date.

Chan Vathananka has already said goodbye to the delights of Kuantuan after Pahang released the young Cambodian star after, what coach Dollah Salleh called performances that were below expectations. Compatriot Keo Sokpheng was back home from PKNP FC before the end of April. Then it looked as if Selangor coach Nazliazmi Nasir was starting to lay the groundwork for the departure of Indonesian duo Evan Dimas and Ilham Udin Armaiyan.

“Our foreign players must perform better than the local ones and not become liabilities to the team. But we’ve been having consistency issues, whereby they fail to play well in most matches they are fielded in,” said Nazliazmi on the matter.

“I find Evan and Ilham’s performance to be average.”

The reports that Selangor were going to stick with their squad for the season was welcome but such comments are not going to do much for confidence.

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The received wisdom is that foreign players have to be better than the locals. If you are bringing Brazilian players from the other side of the world and paying them more than the locals get then they do have to be better than the domestic players. Otherwise why pay more to bring in mediocrity that blocks the development of local talent?

But all imports – Brazilian, Croatian or Korean etc. – should be given more time than they often get. The Malaysian league may be a level below what they are used to but it can still take time to adapt to the climate and that ever-present humidity that has Europeans sweating as soon as they stroll out of their hotels. Giving them no time to adapt, settle and then shine does not do anyone any favours – treat players like mercenaries and then mercenaries is what you will get.

But the ASEAN quota is a separate entity. The very fact that it was introduced shows a recognition that these players should be treated differently – for a while at least.

The whole point of having an extra place for foreigners from fellow Southeast Asian nations is to help the Malaysian league attract the best talent from the region and become a regional leader. It could bring all kinds of future possibilities on and off the pitch but it is not just about what Malaysia can get, there should also be something of a commitment to help improve standards in the region.

If Malaysia want to really make the ASEAN quota work for all sides, then it can’t just be taking talent and then criticising or discarding it at the first possible opportunity. The league and clubs have to understand that they have a responsibility especially to young players often moving overseas for the first time.

Brazil doesn’t care if you send one of their journeyman strikers somewhere else. Cambodia and Indonesia are going to be less understanding when you sign their best players, question their performances within weeks and then send them home or talk about doing so at the first possible opportunity.

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If the performances of the likes of Evan are really average – and that sounds a little strange as the 23 year-old has become a regular in a national team that is stronger than Malaysia’s – then the first reaction should not be to consider shipping him out. It should be to try to understand why he is not yet performing at his best and what can be done to change that.

Vathanaka has shown his worth at the AFF Suzuki Cup when he made Malaysia’s best defenders look well below average. He is a talented player. Coach Dollah never said that he lacked talent just that he wasn’t performing at the levels he knew that he could.

These are players who have shown their worth. They are more than good enough to play and then star in Malaysia.

Maybe they just need time. Time is a commodity that coaches don’t have the luxury of thinking about too much so there has to be a change in the culture at least when it comes to ASEAN players. If not then the best of the region are going to find somewhere else to showcase their talents.

It is in the league’s interest to have top-class Cambodians and Indonesians shining week in, week out and over time this will bring other benefits but it takes time to build the relationship. And like any relationship, there has to be something of a give and take.

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